The 4-Episode Test, Fall 2013 Edition, Part 2: The Blacklist, Hostages, S.H.I.E.L.D., and More

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Hoo boy, now we're gettin' cookin'! The creators of many of this year's new fall shows are dressing their baby programs in "4 EPISODES!" onesies and posting photos of them on Facebook—and we're either hitting the 'like' button or writing "meh" or "u should of got canceled" in the comments. What we're trying to say is—well, you know what we're trying to say, right? It's time for another round of the ol' TV.com 4-Episode Test™! We kicked things off last week with verdicts on Dads, Sleepy Hollow, The Michael J. Fox Show, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and now it's time for a second fourth look at some of this year's biggies: The Blacklist, HostagesMarvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and more. Read on to find out what we're sticking with and what we're deleting from our DVRs, and then check back next week for Part 3!


Back in the Game



Episode 1: ★★★ | Episode 2: ★★★ | Episode 3: ★★★★ | Episode 4: ★★★★★

Verdict: Keep watching (or DVR-ing).

I actually really, really like this show. The pilot wrapped me up in its familiar arms and since then I've enjoyed each passing episode with just as much enthusiasm. As a half-hour comedy, it doesn't require a lot of thought or commitment. I've laughed out loud several times during my stint on the bench with the Angles, who are easily some of the best kids on TV right now. Sure, Back in the Game deals in familiar sitcom tropes like Danny's character's girl troubles, or Terry's need for a girl's night out, but then The Cannon takes the team to a prison for some lessons in baseball and it's funny. In fact, James Caan is terrific. He's reason enough to stick around. Episode 2 was just as delightful as the pilot (and may or may not have made me tear up when it was revealed that The Cannon hasn't changed the master bedroom in his house since his wife died), and although Episodes 3 and 4 weren't as great as the first two, they all still had their moments. —Kaitlin Thomas

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Go Angles! #BackintheGame passes @TVdotcom's 4-Episode Test. http://bit.ly/1ex1l7D


The Blacklist



Episode 1: ★★★ | Episode 2: ★★★★★ | Episode 3: ★★★★ | Episode 4: ★★★★★

Verdict: Watch with caution.

Despite some intense facial expressions from series star James Spader, The Blacklist hasn't improved in the three episodes that've aired since its watchable pilot. The biggest problem is that the show's bad guys—who should be the big draw after Spader—aren't all that compelling. After a plain-old-boring terrorist in the pilot, the next three targets were a grab bag of fishing for something that works. One killed people by going through the harrowing process of staging massive disasters, one was just Chinese, and one dissolved bodies for criminals as a "cleaner," yet kept records of all the people he made disappear, which canceled out the fact that he made people disappear. There's still entertainment value in The Blacklist, with its guns and speeding black SUVs, but some of it is so dumb that it doesn't matter. And the big mystery at the center of the series (why did Red choose Keen?) has already been dodged several times, and will continue to be dodged until the show faces cancellation (which won't be soon, given its Voice-aided ratings). The staple disclaimer of "If it fixes its problems, it could be good" applies here, but that looks more unlikely with each passing minute. —Tim Surette

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#TheBlacklist is both fun/frustrating, hence the "watch with caution" advisory via @TVdotcom's 4-Episode Test. http://bit.ly/1ex1l7D


The Crazy Ones


Episode 1: ★★★★ | Episode 2: ★★★★ | Episode 3: ★★★★ | Episode 4: ★★★

Verdict: Don't watch, but keep an ear out for news of whether the improvement we saw in Episode 4 becomes a regular thing.

Like its plucky advertising protagonists barely making a deadline for a corporate conglomerate's sexy new ad campaign, The Crazy Ones put up a last-minute heave at the four-episode buzzer with a very enjoyable half-hour. Episode 4 was (mostly) a bottle episode that kept the outside riff-raff to a minimum and focused on the main cast as a group. The unusual structure was great; there were no wacky B-stories, and each character had their own mini-arc that meshed with the others'. There was even a good meta gag about passing time involving clock hands spinning around! Basically, it was everything that The Crazy Ones was not in its first three episodes—but currently there's no reason to believe that it will become the norm. Unless the show drastically changes, I'm guessing this comedy will we back to its emotionally manipulative abuse of ducklings and non-stop mood-enhancing score in not time. And can we PLEASE get rid of the blooper end tags? What is this, 1997? —Tim

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#TheCrazyOnes kicked things up a notch in Ep. 4. Will @TVdotcom's 4-Episode Test verdict of "quit watching" hold? http://bit.ly/1ex1l7D


The Goldbergs



Episode 1: ★★★★ | Episode 2: ★★★★★ | Episode 3: ★★★ | Episode 4: ★★★★★

Verdict: Your call, but we're leaning slightly toward keep watching.

The Goldbergs has shown a marked improvement since the characters stopped all the shouting they were doing in the pilot, peaking in Episode 3 when father Murray and son Barry worked together to sell furniture. But the series hasn't quite made the leap all the way to "weekly watch," as evidenced by a mellower fourth episode involving a stale plot about finding a woman for grandpa (the B-story involving Adam and Barry was better). The Goldbergs does have a strong heart and some family sensibility, but until it punches up its plots, the show could go either way. —Tim

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Once everyone stopped shouting, ABC's #TheGoldbergs improved enough to (mostly) pass @TVdotcom's 4-Episode Test. http://bit.ly/1ex1l7D


Hostages



Episode 1: ★★★★ | Episode 2: ★★★★ | Episode 3: ★★★★ | Episode 4: ★★★★★

Verdict: Be strong, set it free.

From the very beginning, we wondered whether or not the premise of CBS's Hostages could sustain itself for the show's 15-episode order. Unsurprisingly, after just four episodes, the show's solution to that problem has been to jam a whole bunch of boring, rote side plots into the package while generally stalling on Dr. Sanders actually operating on the president. Every family member has their own lame secret that isn't particularly interesting and it just makes me sad to see Hilarie Burton and Billy Brown wasted in such thankless supporting roles. On the bright side, Toni Collette is really good and Dylan McDermott has somehow dialed back his seething cool-guy routine into something a bit more casual. Hostages has remained consistent in quality since the pilot, meaning each episode has featured a few moments of intrigue mixed with quite a bit of zzzz. Episode 4 represented a slight uptick in quality, but the problem is that it was built entirely on an escape plan—and although it was moderately thrilling, it was never going to work. The hour ended on a solid cliffhanger that will probably bring me back for Episode 5, but I know I'm stupid for sticking around. Don't be stupid like me. Let it go. —Cory Barker

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CBS's #Hostages fails @TVdotcom's 4-Episode Test with a "quit watching" verdict, cliffhanger or not. http://bit.ly/1ex1l7D


Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.



Episode 1: ★★★★★ | Episode 2: ★★★★★ | Episode 3: ★★★★★ | Episode 4: ★★★

Verdict: Keep watching (even if you only tune in so you can complain about the show later)!

Going in, I think there were a lot of misconceptions about what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was supposed to be, and I think the biggest problem with the series is that, despite airing on ABC at 8pm, it's not your standard TV fare. It's a comic book show; there's some backstory involved. And even though the series doesn't require previous knowledge of the Marvel Universe, it does help if you have it. S.H.I.E.L.D. is still 90 percent procedural, 10 percent serialized storytelling, but that's not a bad thing right now. However, as is the often the case with procedurals, the show still needs some time to find itself. After a stellar pilot, S.H.I.E.L.D. has struggled to keep up its quality level, but it's slowly getting there. Each of the last two episodes has been better than the one before, the characters are being developed, season-long arcs are beginning to take shape, and Joss Whedon's comedy is still present throughout. S.H.I.E.L.D. will probably never be for everybody, but if it's even remotely your thing, it's definitely a show you should continue to watch. —Kaitlin

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#AgentsofSHIELD isn't perfect, but it's still a "keep watching" on @TVdotcom's 4-Episode Test. http://bit.ly/1ex1l7D


Mom



Episode 1: ★★★★★ | Episode 2: ★★★★★ | Episode 3: ★★★★★ | Episode 4: ★★★★★

Verdict: Watch it if you <3 Allison Janney, but it's not a must-see comedy.

Mom is a straightforward Chuck Lorre comedy. It's predictable, and it makes you chuckle, but nothing about it stands out or suggests that the show will ever be anything more than what it is on the surface, which is "pretty average." Anna Faris is reliable as lead character Christy, and Allison Janney is wonderful as Christy's mom Bonnie, but the latter statement pretty much a given. If anyone in the supporting cast stands out, it's the son, Roscoe (Blake Garrett Rosenthal), but maybe that's because the show really underuses Nate Corddry as Christy's boss/ex-lover. In fact, Mom hasn't really found a way to incorporate the restaurant scenes with the rest of show, so it's always jarring when the scenes change. Let me put it this way: If I was stranded on a desert island and Mom was the only thing on my TV, yeah, I'd watch it. But currently, it's not going to bump anything else off my DVR. It really depends on your TV schedule and how much you value literally laughing out loud at your comedy. —Kaitlin

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CBS's #Mom isn't in a time out, but it isn't Parent of the Year either, says @TVdotcom's 4-Episode Test. http://bit.ly/1ex1l7D


Trophy Wife



Episode 1: ★★★★ | Episode 2: ★★★★★ | Episode 3: ★★★★★ | Episode 4: ★★★★★

Verdict: Keep watching, and hope that ABC helps it out.

After a solid pilot (especially by pilot standards), Trophy Wife's second and third episodes went a little limp—but still showed a promising voice. And that voice was shouting in Episode 4, "The Breakup," where the series really came together and figured out how to give every character a story and spread the laughs around. It's a sign of a good series when it's difficult to decide which character is your favorite, and four episodes in, I'm still stuck on that question. Even the kids are funny in this! Trophy Wife was a keeper from the start, but after I saw the excellent fourth episode, it jumped much higher on my list. Now if only ABC would schedule the show behind Modern Family where it belongs, so that more people would watch it... —Tim

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#TrophyWife is a gem. Def. a keeper based on @TVdotcom's 4-Episode Test. Put it after ModFam where it belongs, ABC! http://bit.ly/1ex1l7D



PREVIOUSLY: 

The 4-Episode Test, Fall 2013 Edition, Part 1: DadsSleepy HollowThe Michael J. Fox Show, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine


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